TO LIGHT A FIRE!
ON PADER REYOOTER
In today’s OPINION page article of the Philippine Star is the following “love story”:
'I love you, Father Reuter'
My tiny mother, observing this new world through almond shaped eyes, saw the rest of tall, white America bending down to look at her. They would speak slowly and loudly at her, remarking to each other, “Isn’t she cute?” My mother had a PhD in English literature and did not like to be referred to as cute. After two painful decades of having to buy her shoes in children’s stores, she broke the law and with two half white daughters, escaped back to the city of her own youth:
I was not yet a teenager when we stepped off the
It was confusing to us. We were barely religious, maybe only very slightly Catholic… at Christmas. Who was
Both of us came equipped with English and Spanish. The lingua franca was Tagalog, which we could not read, write or understand.
Both of us were much larger than the Asian girls our age. My sister was a blonde. I had long masses of curly hair. Like a slow motion dream, we were buried alive in a landslide of shimmering, pitch black tresses that flowed from the heads of tiny, graceful nymphs. These girls didn’t guffaw their laughter, they giggled demurely. They didn’t argue a point; they pursed their lips and lowered their eyes. They didn’t push or shove, they pouted and turned away slowly, lifting high one perfectly curved eyebrow. We were wildflowers blown into a hothouse of exotic orchids. They wanted to talk about love. They looked us over and asked …did we have a brother? We had no brother. Ohhh, tooooo baaaaad.
We also didn’t have the right shoes. The right socks. The right book bags.
This was the 1960’s and we’d been raised by bohemians who had encouraged us to speak our minds, ignore our appearance and argue both sides of the communist take over of Cuba.
We were American peasants in bad need of a full spa make over.
To make matters worse, we had no father. Not only had my mother married a white man, she had divorced him and come back home with two fatherless girls. This information produced a wave of deep shock that washed over everyone around us. Where is your father? Will he come to get you? Will you ever see him again? Doesn’t he love you? Does he have another wife?
My sister being younger took it more in stride and prospered, artfully winning friends with her honeyed locks and dimpled smile. I closed and toughened. My mother had managed to escape imprisonment on the wrong planet and one day, I would do the same. I was an alien who would never, ever paint her fingernails.
Then, one morning, studying alone on the stone steps of the school chapel, my life was changed forever. I looked up to see a tall man in a white cassock crossing the quadrant, Sister Nieves and Sister Joanna hurrying to keep up with him. He was talking in the loud voice of the white man, not hushing his tones for propriety sake. He was striding along purposefully like the white man, not mincing his step to accommodate the women. The bright sun on his golden, white man hair haloed him, making his approach akin to that of a brilliant comet. Was I dreaming? Was this a saint? Was I dead but didn’t know it yet? He came straight towards the chapel and hypnotized by my approaching destiny, I could not move. Looking down at me, a homeless animal crouched on the stone steps, he smiled and said; “you must be the fatherless girl”. His eyes were blue, blue, blue. This was the first white man I had seen since I’d come to the
Sister Joanna said; “her name is Lotis”.
Sister Nieves said; “Lotis, this is Father Reuter”.
I was paralyzed, like the kitten before the tiger that will consume it. Father Reuter put his large, white gold hand on my curly head and said; “come, talk to me, I’ll hear your confession”. Confession? What was that? What should I confess? That I felt ugly and stupid? That I hated this place? That I hated myself? Ignorant of the concept of personal sin, unaware of what confession was supposed to consist of, these were the things I told him.
I talked to Father Reuter that day and many, many more days over the years to come. He heard my “confession” in person every week or so, and the rest of the time I talked to him in my heart, in my dreams, in my prayers. In reality he did not treat me any differently than any other little girl. I was no special pet or favorite. I don’t know if he even thought of me at all outside the confessional. I am unaware if I ever made any particular impression on him. No. It was him who made the impression on me.
Father Reuter had been sent by the Jesuits, to the Philippines, just before WWII and wound up interned by the Japanese. At wars end, the Jesuits asked him to stay on for a bit and he did…returning to the
In this day of gross immorality, I don’t know if anyone can understand how, without the slightest hint of sexual impropriety, a little girl can love her priest and find her salvation through him. But it is true. Father Reuter was more than a man or a priest. He was a father.
Before I knew God in the personal way I do now, I knew Father Reuter in place of Him. Before I could accept God as my Father, Father Reuter was there to create that role for me. I was a lost child who would have been lost forever if not for this celibate male taking me for one of his children. He encouraged me to speak and communicate my thoughts. He pushed me to develop my voice. He made me understand that even if I didn’t fit in I was valuable and gifted.
After high school I went on to a life filled with many elaborate diversions. I did foolish things and I was pushed by my curly, wild nature to adventures that sorely tried all around me. I can remember times I would pause for an instant and think; “I should go to Father Reuter for advice”, but pride mixed with shame, would erase the impulse. In my heart nestled a deep fear he would be so angry at things I had done, he would no longer love me. Anyway, I was an adult now, capable of dealing with life.
I no longer needed a father of any kind.
I finally did go to see Father Reuter, but only recently, some 40 years since I had last seen him at my graduation. I am not taller than I was in high school, but bent over with age he is now shorter than I am. His slightly trembling hands and feet are misshapen with arthritis. His golden hair is gone. He was seated in a wheelchair wearing his white cassock, and when I entered he struggled to rise and kiss me. I looked into his eyes and they were blue, blue, blue. I was twelve again and struck dumb with love. I could not talk much and in his fatherly way he understood and did the talking for me. Nothing important really, just making enough sound to ease the tension and let the ghost years slip away. As time dissolved between us; the feeling of his strength, the powerful force of his love, the intensity and vigor of his fatherhood, coiled and wrapped itself around my heart, pulling me to my knees before God, in the very deepest gratitude for this man.
Dear, dear man of God. I have never said this to you but I have always wanted to: I love you Father Reuter and I always will. — Lotis Key-Kabigting
[Source: The Philippine Star (Opinion) Thusday, May 28, 2009]
There is nothing else I can truthfully add to Ms. Kabigting’s soul-stirring account of her own personal “love story” starring James B. Reuter S.J., except to say a thousand times over, “AMEN!”
EDUARDO B. OLAGUER
Catholic Xybrspace Apostolate